Too Many Biases in Job Descriptions. Also, Are You Hiring Ninjas? Really?

By Amy Dolan

When our CTO joined DialogTech last year, we met to discuss our recruiting and hiring processes and practices. The conversation quickly turned to the struggles we faced in hiring diverse (namely female) talent, especially in the Engineering department. We talked about strategies that worked in the past as well as the ones that didn’t, and from that conversation we decided to try out a tool that helps eliminate biases in job descriptions and allows us to hire more diverse, qualified candidates: Textio.

The very nature of bias is that it shows up in everything we do and say (or don’t do and say) without our even being conscious of it. Job descriptions are a prime example of where the language that we use without thinking can actually discourage qualified candidates from applying for the position. And then companies wonder why they keep hiring the same person over and over again.

To attract diversity, we must speak diversity.

Textio is a new tool for just that purpose. It’s “built on an intelligent machine learning platform called a ‘predictive engine’ [and] it analyzes job listings and hiring outcomes data collected from around the globe to find the meaningful language patterns that cause some job posts to succeed where others fail.”


Image source:  Textio

Image source: Textio

The tool sounded simple in concept but when I began using it, I realized it was so much more. It helped us identify any verbiage within our postings that was unknowingly sexist. In my experience, I’ve seen that the phrase “you will lead a team…” appeals more to men than to women, while “you will partner with…” generally appeals to women more than men. Words like “ambitious” or “competitive” attract more male job seekers and phrases like “be a part of” or “collaborate with” speak to female job seekers. This is not to say that women are not interested in competitive roles or leadership positions, but simply that most people assume that a company that has a job description with these phrases is looking for a male employee.

For example, a Huffington Post article found that there were 800 job listings with the word “ninja” in the write-up. When you think of ninja, for better or worse, you think of a “dude, or, more notoriously, a ‘bro.’ Indeed, going back to its origins, the traditional Japanese ninja was a man.” I would say that some of the things that attract women are flexibility of schedules, a clear career path, and learning opportunities.

I immediately saw the issue with using these words and phrases and it reminded me of something I once heard: when reviewing job postings, a man is more likely to apply for a position when he qualifies for perhaps only 1 out the 5 criteria, whereas a woman is more likely to not apply even if she meets 4 out of the 5 job criteria.

In addition to sexist language, corporate cliches — like “best practices,” “team player” and “outside the box” — are now being flagged in our job postings as too rigid, too corporate, a thing of the past. Textio automatically suggests new ways to word what you want to say. Concise and gender-neutral job descriptions with “you” statements have become the new standard of our job postings.


Not wanting to miss out on great female (or male) talent simply because our job descriptions did not adequately represent the type of talent we were looking to hire will always be a priority. We take great pride in the people we hire at DialogTech. One of the founding principles here is that we only hire SWANs — someone who is whip Smart, Works hard, is Ambitious and Nice (a generally undervalued quality) —  and in turn, we will strive to be the easiest company our employees have ever worked for.  


In the past, we always believed that we attracted SWANs, but after seeing how our postings were scoring on Textio’s scale, I had to take a deeper look. We started refocusing our social media and even trying Internet radio ad campaigns targeting specific gender and ethnic demographics. We took a closer look at the content we had on our website and public profiles such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn, etc. And we found many ways in which we could improve our DialogTech persona through our choice of words.

By using Textio, we ended up hiring more women, with an increase from 28 to 44 female employees within the course of nine months.

As any member of a startup team will tell you, learning to iterate and strive for continuous improvement is key to a growing, successful company. We believe that our people are our strongest asset and if we don’t continue to attract and retain them, then not only are we not being the easiest company they have ever worked for, but we are sabotaging our own success.

Take a step back to examine how your brand is speaking to the types of people you say you want and demonstrate that you truly embrace being an equal opportunity employer. Deeply caring about the success and happiness of your employees is what makes a company extraordinary. And, personally, I want to work at a company that strives for extraordinary every single day.

About Amy Dolan

After studying Human Resources Development and Business Administration at Texas A&M University, Amy started her HR career in the oilfield services industry. Amy Dolan is now the Director of Human Resources, DialogTech. 

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